It's that time of the offseason when 2020 NFL Power Rankings begin to circulate more heavily. PFF released a set of Too-Early 2020 NFL Power Rankings prior to the NFL Draft. Back then, we slotted the Detroit Lions 27th, which isn't far from where major media outlets have ranked them since. In ESPN’s iteration from early May, the Lions come in at 28th; Dan Hanzus of Around the NFL had Detroit at 30th; Peter King slotted the Lions in at 26th in a recent Football Morning in America column.
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The Lions are almost universally expected to be one of the worst teams in the NFL. But the more I look at the situation, I can’t help but feel like the NFC North is wide open. It wouldn't surprise me if any of the four teams won the division, and I'm honestly not convinced that the Green Bay Packers, Minnesota Vikings or Chicago Bears have a better roster than Detroit.
Considering that the Lions went 3-12-1 last season and have roughly +6,000 odds to win the Super Bowl this year, this is not a popular opinion. Here's the reasoning.
The Lions were competitive with Matthew Stafford last season
Let’s take a trip through the start to Detroit’s 2019 season.
- Week 1: Tied Arizona Cardinals after holding a 24-6 lead in the fourth quarter
- Week 2: Beat the Los Angeles Chargers
- Week 3: Beat the Philadelphia Eagles
- Week 4: Lost to the Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs on a go-ahead touchdown with 20 seconds remaining
- Week 5: Bye week
- Week 6: Lost 23-22 to the Green Bay Packers on a last-second field goal in a game where the officiating was heavily scrutinized and Detroit held a nine-point lead in the fourth quarter
- Week 7: Lost 42-30 to the Minnesota Vikings
- Week 8: Beat the New York Giants
- Week 9: Lost to the Oakland Raiders 31-24 on a go-ahead touchdown with two minutes remaining
Those were the results with Matthew Stafford at quarterback — before fractured bones in his back sidelined him for the remainder of the 2019 season. Of course, Detroit would go on to lose the remainder of its games with David Blough and Jeff Driskel under center. But this was not your typical three-win team. The Lions were competitive even in their losses with Stafford, pushing two teams that earned first-round byes in Kansas City and Green Bay. Both were games they very well could have won.
Stafford’s play and the return of a gunslinger mentality — one that didn’t involve an abundance of reckless mistakes à la the quarterback for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers — was a big reason for Detroit’s competitive play early on.